Pat Jordan Scott on why she's closing her Belfast boutique
The owner of the go-to store for women in search of the right outfit for a glamorous occasion talks to Stephanie Bell about her life in business, love and the changing trends in how we dress
There will be a considerable gap left in the glamorous end of local fashion with the news that Northern Ireland's very own doyenne of dress Pat Jordan Scott is pulling down the shutters on her iconic shop. As Belfast Fashionweek kicks off this week it seems an appropriate occasion for Pat, who has never missed a show, to bow out of the business in style after a fantastic 50 years.
Pat plans to shut up shop in December and as a thank you to her many loyal customers over the decades, she will be selling all of her stock at half price for the rest of the year.
It will indeed be the end of an era for Northern Ireland when she finally closes the door on her high end Lisburn Road boutique, Jourdan, after 50 years in business.
Credited with single-handedly pioneering the boutique culture in Northern Ireland, Pat's keen eye for successfully predicting what the most fashion-conscious women will want to wear, season after season, has made her a legend in the industry.
But while she will be closing her shop, this indefatigable businesswoman is not about to put her feet up and retire. She is currently working on a new venture which she hopes will help revitalise business for other boutique owners on Belfast's trendy Lisburn Road and make shopping even easier for fashionistas.
Her new business will be a first for Northern Ireland and details are under wraps until she will be ready to launch it later this year.
Pat decided to close her boutique after the owner of the premises she trades from on the Lisburn Road announced plans for redeveloping the site. Rather than move location she felt it was time to bow out of the business and try something new.
"I just thought it would be a good time to retire from the business, although I don't intend to stop working," she says.
"I've had a wonderful 50 years in Belfast. The people of Belfast have always been great and I am delighted to be giving them looks at half the price for the rest of the year."
Pat has many fond memories from her career, which saw Jourdan develop a fine reputation for stocking the most glamorous dresses for special occasions.
Jourdan was the 'go-to' shop for ladies looking for something special for balls and big events for many years and it was so well-known that many celebrities paid it a visit when in Northern Ireland.
Interestingly, growing up in Belfast, Pat hadn't planned on a career in fashion and had her sights set on studying law. A chance encounter in the street with a model scout when she was 16 changed the course of her life.
"It was the school holidays and I was on my way to my mum's business when I was approached in the street and asked if I would be interested in modelling," she says.
"I had planned a career in law, but the money being offered for modelling was incredible and I couldn't refuse. I never regretted it. It really helped when I opened my first boutique as the press could pop round for photographs and I was there to model for them.
"I had a great few years as a model but stopped when I was 25 when a photographer I knew commented that I had put a bit of weight on.
"I just thought I couldn't be bothered worrying about my weight anymore and I decided to quit. I was probably about a size 12 and how I wish I had that weight problem now."
Pat's parents divorced when she was very young and she and her brother Tony and sister Maureen were brought up by her mum, who was also called Maureen.
Her mother was a well-known entrepreneur in Belfast where she ran a number of businesses including an employment company called Pathfinder and also opened one of the very first dating agencies here, an introduction company based in Royal Avenue.
Pat says her mum was her inspiration for going into business at the age of 25.
"Mum really had her head screwed on and she was also the agent for some fashion companies," she explains. "She had numerous businesses and, of course, it was more difficult for women in business then. There is no doubt that she influenced me."
Pat opened her first boutique in Church Lane, a hip Sixties shop called La Babalu. It stocked a range of crochet mini-dresses which became an instant hit with celebrities and local fashionistas.
It was the late Sixties and Church Lane at the time was a slick street of independent boutiques where her brother Tony also had a menswear shop called Mark Anthony.
"Back then Church Lane became like the Carnaby Street of Belfast," recalls Pat. "At one stage it had eight boutiques and was very popular, especially on Saturdays when you would see all sorts of colourful people, many who were well-known at the time."
The shop moved to Queen's Arcade in the Eighties when she renamed it Jourdan and also made the move into special occasionwear which became her signature in the fashion world.
She also launched her own fashion collection, Viva by Pat Jourdan, which was very successful for a few years, ending when the factory where she had the range made closed down.
Jourdan also became famed for its unique and very exclusive Oscar dress service. Pat had an arrangement with a company to copy the best red carpet dresses from the Oscars immediately after the ceremony was staged, offering replicas of the stunning designs chosen by the stars to her customers within days.
The service was so popular that every year she had a waiting list. "I had a company who would work through the night making the dresses as soon as the Oscars took place," she says. "I remember one of the most popular was a Valentino dress worn by Julia Roberts and another dress worn by Halle Berry.
"People were really keen to get hold of whatever the stars wore and I would have had a list of names waiting for them.
"The company I worked with did very good copies of the originals which would have cost upwards of £50,000 and I was able to sell the replicas for £200 to £300."
Of the many stars who popped into Jourdan over the years, Pat remembers Roger Moore (right) buying an evening bag for his wife and Cliff Richard's manager picking a present for the singer to give to girlfriend Sue Barker back in the Eighties.
The Three Degrees also shopped in Jourdan while in Belfast and Pat remembers actor Victor Spinetti buying jewellery for the entire cast during a production in the Grand Opera House.
She dressed country star Susan McCann for a dinner in the White House and is the preferred choice of many people attending royal events, a day at the races and charity balls. In recent years she has become known for her mother - and grandmother - of the bride outfits.
It goes without saying that Pat has seen many changes over the years in how we dress and how we socialise. Always being one step ahead when it comes to anticipating what will be in demand has been key to her success.
"There used to be a lot more balls and big formal events which just don't happen anymore," she says. "There used to be two seasons for balls, but these days there is nothing like the social occasions there used to be.
"It is all about the proms now for young people and mother of the bride outfits and people looking something special for race meetings.
"One of the big things for the race meetings was when the husband would have said the price didn't matter because he was confident that his wife would be going into the winner's enclosure. We always tried to find out the name of that horse!
"There is definitely more of an emphasis on more casual dressing now, it's all so very different.
"Mothers of the bride have also changed a lot from the days when they dressed like the late Queen Mother.
"There isn't a particular mother of the bride look anymore and you cannot believe what people have in mind. Some go for elegant suits and others want to be really glamorous.
"Women are looking at least 10 years younger than their mums looked at their age and they want to reflect that in their choice of dress and we also now have grandmothers of the bride who go for a more elegant look."
As well as running her successful business, Pat served as a Justice of the Peace in Belfast for 20 years, was chairperson of the General Commission and served on the British Airways Consumer Council for 18 years.
She did enjoy many good years with her husband Denis Scott, who tragically died from cancer aged 63 shortly after they married in 1993.
Denis was one of three well-known brothers who ran a number of businesses in the city. Pat recalls: "The Scott brothers bought a string of cinemas and developed them into shops. They owned a lot of property in the city and were very well-known.
"I met Denis when I was in my 30s and we didn't marry for quite some time because I didn't want any children and it suited us both to be free.
"Denis took cancer and in fact all three brothers died from cancer within a three-year period.
"We had planned to get married and we were waiting for him to get cured, but when we realised he wasn't going to get better we went ahead and planned the wedding and got married in hospital.
"It was dreadful to lose him and I never again met anyone like him.
"I feel that I was fortunate that the people I had in my early life were extraordinarily special and I haven't met anyone as interesting since I lost Denis 25 years ago."
Now, with the closure of Jourdan and the start of a new chapter in her life with the opening of a new business, Pat is feeling grateful for what life has given her.
She adds: "It is said if you do something you love you will never work a day in your life and I have always loved being in fashion and still find it extremely exciting.
"My new business will, of course, be about fashion and it involves working online and will be very new to Northern Ireland and I hope will be a boost for local fashion boutiques."